A tribute to Dorton

In January 2017, RSBC merged with the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB). Although we are now called RSBC, there may be some references to RLSB in the following article.

As RLSB announced PegasusLife as the new owner of the mansion house in Seal, our CEO Dr Tom Pey looked back at the special role the site has played in our history while former Dorton students share their memories.

I once asked a neighbour why they liked Sevenoaks so much and they replied: “Because here I can give my kids the life I always wanted to”.

It struck me because it was for this same reason that the Royal London Society for Blind People moved to Sevenoaks in 1954.

Looking for the perfect new home in a post-war era where we could give an education to blind and partially sighted children, we found the secluded, fresh space of Wildernesse Avenue.

RLSB had a duty of care for those children that came here to learn; to give them an education to be proud of, one that would give them a start in life. I think that our supporters and the people in the local area, with their generosity and willingness to help, took on part of that duty of care too. Over the years they volunteered, fundraised, rallied and celebrated with us.

We treasure many memories, such as when school boys from Sevenoaks learnt Braille so they could help Dorton students read. Or when parents learnt for themselves new ways to teach their children important skills.

We remember how the ladies of Brimar Valve Works donated Christmas toys; the oohing and aahing at the Sevenoaks Rotary Club and RLSB’s annual fireworks display; and the town’s delight as HM The Queen visited.

It is a history that we can all be proud of, which has supported hundreds of children to enjoy their lives at Dorton. A few of these youngsters have gone on to become international Paralympic sportsmen, politicians, professors, winners of Woman of the Year, and talented musicians.

Now in our 175th year, it is time for RLSB to move into a new era. As we say goodbye to the mansion house, we move to a new future, one fit for the needs of blind young people of the 21st Century.
Sadly many of the people we work with tell us that they are lonely, isolated and often have little confidence about their future. The tell us they need our support, but close to their own communities, so they are able be with their family, make friends and experience life as it really is, with its ups and its downs.

However, you will see RLSB roll out our new early years services, with new Parent and Toddler groups. A fresh new further education will be on offer, a new sports programme that will get hundreds of children involved in sport and exciting new personal development sessions.

These will all be delivered in communities across London and the South East and all designed to help the blind children of today have the confidence and self-belief to live their life without limits.

Thank you for believing in life beyond sight loss and I hope we can continue to count on your support as we move into this exciting new era.

Former Dorton alumni tell share their memories…

Leading technology consultant Dr Julia Schofield, who went to Dorton in the 1950s, says:

“What did RLSB do for me? You don’t realise until much later in life how important life skills are, as well as academic. How many times have I thanked Miss Dyson for teaching me cooking, as has my husband, too. Those early walks to the shops in Seal developed good mobility and, although I have a guide dog now, this teaching was vital. Time spent with children without sight is so important because one doesn’t learn by looking at others.”

Musician and singer Jeanette Contant-Galitello went to Dorton in the 1970s. She shares her memories:

“I thought the education was excellent, and that was the standard of a good private school. Music wise it was certainly a very good school. I got a lot of good training from there and my teacher at that time was Jill Smith. She was amazing. She was a great teacher.”

Gold medal winning Paralympian Darren Leach, who discovered his passion for swimming at Dorton in the 1980s, says:

“We learnt how to look after ourselves – how to cook and clean, you were on a rota and you’d cook the meals and do all that as part of your day. There were smaller classes, so you got a good education.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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